Posted on 10/29/11 12:52 AM
There are times when expectations can really hurt a film. Case in point: Iron Man 2. It earned a 74% positive rating by critics and over 300 mil domestically, yet in both cases it was seen as a disappointment.
At the start of the film, we see an old man in Russia dying in his bed, watching a video of the conference Tony Stark held at the end of the first movie (where he revealed some very surprising news) His son, Ivan Vanko, comes in just before the father dies, and after grieving for the loss of his father, he sets out to build a new type of weapon. Meanwhile, back in the states, Tony Stark seems to be having the time of his life. He's succeeded in bringing one of the longest periods of peace on record, and is huge celebrity. Unfortunately, the palladium that is keeping him alive and powered his suit is also poisoning him, while the government, particularly Senator Stern, is pressuring him to hand the suit over, claiming that they need it because other countries are trying to build similar suits, but Tony Stark assures them that no one will posses the technology for at least another ten years. He's proven wrong, however, when Ivan Vanko attacks him during a car race. Tony wins, but now Senator Stern has even more of an excuse to get his hands on the Iron Man suit. Meanwhile, the blood poisoning is reaching a dangerous rate with Tony, and seeing how he hasn't long to live, he begins to behave recklessly, alienating his friends. Then as if to make matters worse, a competitive rival to Stark, Justin Hammer, sees potential in Ivan and frees him from prison, before instructing him to build him an army of suits to take Iron Man down.
It was a sign of how much I loved the original that I bought Iron Man 2 on DVD as soon as I had the chance (I missed seeing it in theaters) and I'm happy to say that I greatly enjoyed what I got. In fact, when I first saw it, I honestly thought it was even better than the original, though it hasn't held up as well on repeat viewings, but it's still a lot of fun.
First off the weaker points. The Story is not as strong this time around, lacking the freshness and well pacing of the first. There are a number of dull spots in the film where it doesn't seem sure where to go, while there are times when it's almost difficult to suspend disbelief, even beyond the usual range of a franchise that involves a guy making a suit in a cave under the eyes of terrorists (Spoilers - Howard Stark leaving encrypted messages in an old model of a building was a little too hard to accept, which therefore hurt the drama of Stark finally finding a replacement for his arc reactor) It also suffers from a Spiderman 3 problem with too many characters added into the plot, though not to the same degree. Take Agent Coulson, for example, who is hardly seen in the film and then comes to give a dramatic goodbye to Stark. Yeah, I'm sure we'll all miss a character we hardly even saw. Also, the references to other Avenger characters seemed practically forced into the plot, which added to the pacing problems (something the director himself complained about, saying it was the studios decision) Finally, I know this sounds like I'm going too deep into details, but peeing in the suit? What is this, an Adam Sandler comedy?
On the other hand, practically everything else about this film is as good as or better than the original. First off, it's nice to see a superhero film where the identity of the hero is known to the public. Instead of getting another movie where the main character has to run off unexpectedly with some lame excuse to fight crime, we get one whom is loved by the public, though at the same time is more vulnerable because everyone knows his identity. The cast is even better this time around, with the new additions mixing in well with the old ones. Robert Downey Jr. is once again amazing as Tony Stark, with so much charisma and humor that it's actually more fun to watch Tony Stark when he's not in the suit. He also manages to make us feel sympathy for him, even when he's acting like a total jerk (him dying from the suit gives a strong dramatic arc to the story) while the chemistry between him and Gwyneth Paltrow is even better than the first. Meanwhile, the director Jon Favreau gets much more screen time this time around as Happy Hogan and he makes the best of it (His fight with a guard is not only hilarious, but it's also one of the most believable fights involving a security guard, as for once he doesn't drop down on the first punch)
As for the new cast, well first off Terrence Howard was unable to return for the sequel as James Rhodes, and was replaced by Don Cheadle/Iron Monger. While it may create some continuity problems, I actually thought it was for the best, as this time around, Rhodes is much more hostile toward Tony Stark, something Cheadle I think does better than Howard (as for the suit of Iron Monger, it's even cooler than the newly designed one for Iron Man) Sam Rockwell is a funny addition as the almost childlike Justin Hammer, while Mickey Rourke shines as the menacing and cunning Ivan Vanko/Whiplash, even if for the most part he's in a lab building droids. Samuel L. Jackson, well he's Samuel L. Jackson. I've yet to see him give a bad performance, and he doesn't break that streak here as the tough Nick Furry. Scarlett Johansson doesn't really have much to do in the - ah hell, who cares. She plays Natalie Rushman/Black Widow, who fights crime in a skintight outfit; that's enough for me. Besides, she also has some fine chemistry with Jon Favreau.
The action is an improvement over the first. Granted, it's still lacking in tension, but it is better staged and more impressive. The highlight is the battle at the race track, while the climax is practically an all out war (spoilers - though I felt Whiplash is defeated too easily) Not to mention the chemistry and humor in the climax more than make up for any disappointment in the action. In fact this is arguably the funniest superhero movie I've reviewed so far.
I mentioned in my review of Spiderman 3 of a trend in superhero franchises, where the second film is better than the first. Iron Man 2 broke that trend. To be fair though, making a superior sequel to Iron Man is a lot harder than making a superior sequel to Fantastic, and even if it's weaker than its predecessor, Iron Man 2 is nonetheless a blast of fun. I think what hurt its reputation the most is that a lot of people were expecting a sequel of Dark Knight caliber, but while I didn't go "wow" when the credits rolled like The Dark Knight, I still couldn't help but give a chuckle at the final scene in the movie (the medal ceremony, not the forced in Avenger one)